Fox Tries to Calm Affiliate Worries

Jan 30, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Broadcast network affiliates have become increasingly concerned about the negative impact on local stations of making network content available on new platforms, and Fox affiliates are no exception.

At the Fox affiliates convention last week in Las Vegas, Fox Networks Group President and CEO Tony Vinciquerra said the affiliates “clearly understand the network’s need to experiment and try to find ways to exploit product, that 10 or 20 years ago a program being put on the air was being seen by 40 [percent] or 50 percent of the audience. Today it’s being viewed by 15 [percent] or 16 percent of the audience, so we have to find ways to get that product in front of more consumers.”

Right now, Mr. Vinciquerra said, the network’s negotiations with the affiliates are as much about what the limitations should be on the network’s experiments as they are about whether the affiliates should be able to look for a share of the revenue from repurposing on video-on-demand, iPods and cellphones.

“You’ve got to try it and be out there,” Mr. Vinciquerra said. “We’ll learn things from the experimentations.

“We’ve put forth the idea, the concept that we want to be in business with the affiliates to have them work with us to find ways to generate revenue for both the network and the stations. I don’t think there’s hesitation, it’s just trying to get to the deal point,” he said.

He said that on this issue, “We’re in a very different place than ABC, NBC and CBS, who have basically said [to their affiliates] ‘We’re going to do what we want when we want without you.’ We’ve said to our affiliates, ‘We want to do this with you. We want to find a common understanding, but at the end of the day we have to do this stuff.’ You can’t be hamstrung so you can’t experiment, can’t find out what the new businesses are, and we can’t be in a negative position to the other networks as to what they’re going to do.”

There were a number of upbeat moments during the meeting, such as when the University of Nevada-Las Vegas marching band blew into the Breakers Ballroom at Mandalay Bay playing a rendition of Fox Sports’ NFL theme song and the mood instantly jumped from kumbaya to sis-boom-bah.

It was a reminder that Fox Sports became a big player on the college football scene when the Bowl Championship Series debuted on the network Jan. 1, with the Fiesta Bowl leading off a week packed with four major bowl games and fraught with tie-ins for local stations by the time it arrived.

If the affiliates and network executives all were quick to describe themselves as “very excited” to have the BCS, both sides likewise were savoring a strong bounce in prime time as the second half of the 2005-06 season kicked off with the returns of “24” and “American Idol” pulling stronger numbers than even some executives had dared hope.

Mr. Vinciquerra joked that he would not repeat his year-ago statement that Fox could win the season (which it didn’t), but that he could comfortably predict the race will be tight at the end of the season.

Another bright spot during the nearly eight hours of sessions was the appearance of Scott Feresten, a comedy writer who will star in a half-hour show airing on the Fox network Saturday nights following “Mad TV.”

If it clicks on Saturdays, it could be a candidate for late weeknights, especially “a couple of years down the road, when there’s no [strong new] comedy fodder” from syndicators, Mr. Vinciquerra said.

Fox’s string of late-night failures started with Joan Rivers in 1986. But the network recently hired Todd Yasui, former executive producer of “The Late Late Show” on CBS, as senior VP of late-night programming.

Affiliates raved about how funny Mr. Feresten’s session was.

“They got to see what’s possible,” said Fox Television Network President Ed Wilson. “This is not about a land grab and I think the stations all see that.”

“I think he’s going to be terrific,” declared Brian Brady, the Northwest Broadcasting president and chairman of the Fox affiliates, of Mr. Feresten.

On other specifics, Mr. Brady was tight-lipped. He said he thought the meeting “went great. We’re working on a number of issues together and we’re excited. Hopefully we’re going to be able to find ways to do things together and attack the future.”

Other Affiliate Gatherings

  • A meeting of the UPN affiliates board Tuesday morning in Las Vegas was truncated by the announcement that UPN and The WB would merge this fall into a new network called The CW-and the realization that the deal made all new and old business moot.

  • At three low-profile meetings of CBS affiliate representatives in Las Vegas last week, the topics included an extension of the affiliate agreement that helps the network defray the cost of its six-year, $4 billion NFL deal and the network/affiliate relationship in the world of on-demand programming, as well as other opportunities that confront both parties.